Many small businesses still not digital-ready

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New research reveals that despite the ongoing and increased efforts towards the digital transformation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many small businesses have yet to make that transition.

The survey, published by online payments provider Pin Payments, shows that while the majority of Australian businesses have some sort of online presence, like a website (59.4 per cent) or social media account (48 per cent), few have invested in new technology or plan to invest in new technology in the future.

In detail, while 78 per cent of the small businesses surveyed were consumer-facing, only half reported having a website which is the basic requirement for reaching customers online. The participants’ industries span arts and recreation, retail trade, transport, postal and warehousing, education, healthcare, media and IT.

Pin Payments’ director of growth, Chris Dahl, said that they conducted the study as it was difficult to ascertain whether most SMEs in Australia had actually invested in digital, with a lack of recent and relevant data.

“Many Australian SMEs use our platform, from delivery services like Fig & Bloom to online platforms like Pet Rescue, and while we spoke to those merchants, we wanted to understand whether SMEs Australia-wide had adopted or enhanced their digital presence since COVID-19,” Dahl said.

“Given the lack of data surrounding this, our only choice was to conduct the survey ourselves. Ironically, the results received contradicted our original thinking on this.””

Pin Payments noted that with 70 per cent of Australians now shopping online, a figure expected to rise over the holiday season, many businesses are missing out due to the lack of digital presence.

“Prior to the survey, we believed because of the huge push to digital by governments, that most businesses were already in the process of adopting new digital skills and technology,” Dahl said. “After conducting the survey, we realised this wasn’t the case.

“Many businesses are just staying afloat and simply can’t afford any additional investments,” Dahl added. “Continued restrictions and lockdowns across the country have badly impacted SMEs and, regardless of the difference new technology could make, businesses can’t invest what they don’t have.”

While mature SMEs (over three years of trading) are stronger digitally, with most having an online presence, only 55 per cent of infant SMEs (one to three years of trading) are considering the digital route to be important. Moreover, there are a considerable number of mature businesses with no online presence that are unlikely to look into digital, preferring to instead continue to rely on their existing network for word of mouth referral.

“These results present a muddied version of the state of online affairs for small businesses,” Dahl said. “It’s pretty clear confidence is down, and most business owners resist investing during times of uncertainty. However, digital is absolutely fundamental for business survival in our new-normal pandemic lives, and businesses who fail to see this will eventually be left behind.”